USF Hosts Colloquium on the Intersection Between the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems

Jails have become places where a disproportionate number of people with serious mental illness (SMI) spend significant amounts of time, with their ties to the community severed, their treatment needs unmet, and their illnesses made worse. A colloquium scheduled for Friday, October 6th at the University Area Community Development Corporation will bring national experts and USF scholars together to share available information about the need for more trained and prepared stakeholders in the criminal justice system who can help individuals with mental illnesses make jail their last option, not the first.
A Colloquium, Falling through the Cracks, was held October 6, 2017 and sponsored by the University of South Florida’s College of Behavioral & Community Sciences. Open to university and community members, it provided current research-based information on the Intersection between the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems.
Speakers included: Judge Steven Leifman, Chair of the Florida Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Court; Arthur Lurigio, Professor at Loyola University Chicago, Department of Psychology; and Kathleen M. Heide, Professor at the University of South Florida, Department of Criminology. Community partners will also be available to distribute information on resources available in the Tampa Bay area.
“It is estimated that more than two million arrests in the United States each year involve people with Serious Mental Illnesses. As a result, untrained and unprepared stakeholders in the criminal justice system have been forced to navigate an increasingly scarce system of care for people with mental illnesses,” said Judge Leifman, who described his journey into the mental health system, the legal and medical history that led to America’s mental health crisis and the essential elements necessary to create an effective system of care that ultimately will transform the mental health and criminal justice systems and make jail the last option for people with serious mental illnesses, not the first.
“Throughout U.S. history, people with serious mental illness (PSMI) have been untreated, mistreated, misunderstood, maligned, abused, and marginalized. They have been shuttered away in one institution or another from the asylum, to the state hospital, to the nursing home, to the state prison,” said Dr. Lurigio. He addressed questions aimed at clarifying essential notions that form the crux of continued debates about the problem of criminalization and strategies for improving the care of PSMI who are often neglected or mislabeled.
According to Dr. Heide, killings by juveniles have been a societal concern in the United States for more than 40 years. She discussed the proportionate involvement of youths under 18 in homicide arrests over time, common mental health diagnoses found among this population, and how long-term confinement, when coupled with the lack of mental health treatment and programming, has left some of these juvenile homicide offenders” frozen in time” and still others ill-equipped to make a good adjustment to society.
“Unfortunately, Florida ranks 48th nationally in state funding for community mental health services,” said Dr. Mary Armstrong, Executive Director of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, and one of the event organizers. “I hope the Colloquium provideed information regarding the intricacies of the mental health and criminal justice systems and help our community developed improved strategies to redirect people with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system.
Participants had the opportunity to engage with national experts, as well as participate in a facilitated discussion regarding the implications of the colloquium for the Tampa Bay community.